How’d you do on your New Year’s resolutions last year? My New Year’s goal for last year is still an ongoing effort, but remembering to use the Calm Mommy voice when I want my kids to cooperate is becoming more second-nature. My goals for this year center around being more mindful each day, saving myself time as well as aggravation. Our experiment last month in less-is-more living went so well that I’ve been brainstorming ways to carry it into the new year.

So far, I’ve come up with five New Year’s hacks to help us focus on what really matters in our daily living, by cutting back on the time and energy we waste on stuff that doesn’t add any value to our lives. Here they are, in order:

1) Downsize that inbox

Oh, my, do I waste time going through my inbox each day. I never realized how much time until my email hit a glitch last October. For a week my access to my account was rocky at best, and when that week was over, I was floored by how much stuff I was getting on a regular basis that I didn’t really need. Professional newsletters and mailing lists whose posts I no longer want, ads from stores where I’d purchased a single gift online for someone two years ago, and on and on.

The saddest part, though, was when it dawned on me that I’ve been mindlessly opening and reading these things even though I no longer need or care to. Why should I be wasting the two seconds it takes to delete each unwanted message, let alone the precious minutes I fritter away reading stuff without thinking about whether it will add value to my life?

So one of the first things I did, once my account was up and running again, was change a lot of mail settings. In many cases, I simply followed the “unsubscribe” link at the end of the message. For a few, I went onto the organization’s websites and set my e-subscriptions to “nomail” – so I still can access the information online when and if I choose, but I don’t find it cluttering up my inbox the rest of the time.

For those companies whose online promos I might still want when I’m searching for something particular, but whose shopping enticements I can do without the other 364 days of the year, I switched my preferences in their systems, so that the account they spam with solicitations is no longer my primary email account. Instead, their ads now go to a secondary account I set up several years ago, precisely for collecting e-junk mail. (If you don’t have an e-junk mail account yet, I highly recommend making one; mine is still an old Hotmail account that I never check unless I want a coupon for something.)

Now that the new year is here, I’m once again turning a critical eye to my inbox, to see what other unneeded junk floats in each day that I can trim.

2) Let it go

I wrote last month about my renewed efforts to live more with less, and my room-by-room attempts to move beyond “a baby lives here” chic are bearing fruit. The girls are still mostly on board with caring for their slimmed-down selection of toys, and even my husband is working to keep his mail pile from taking over our kitchen peninsula.

Apparently I’m in good company. In recent chats with friends, it’s become clear that we’re all trying to cut back on the amount of “stuff” in our homes. And while many of these friends also have young kids, at least two of these conversations took place with women whose offspring are adults who’ve left the nest.

Have you ever thought about how stressful the extra baggage of our daily lives really is? As my psychologist friend Barbara noted yesterday, even the pre-K set can get stressed out by having too many choices in toys (read: too much stuff)!

Lives change and evolve. Not only do I not miss the dozen-plus scarves I purged from my collection last month, but having done so makes room in my closet for me to enjoy the beautiful ones my husband and best friend Raiah have given me for recent birthday gifts. Likewise, as Raiah and I discussed over the weekend, streamlining our Christmas decor this past season has made us realize that we can let go of some of the decorations that worked great in our single-gal apartments, but don’t fit our current circumstances.

Compared to the stress of too much stuff, it felt great this past weekend to unpack the final two boxes of stuff-from-our-last-move. I’d excavated these boxes from our garage last spring; their contents had not seen the light of day in a half-dozen years. With that much time and emotional distance from these former treasures, it was easy to sort most of them into piles of stuff destined to leave our home.

IMG_12913) When letting go, be mindful about it

But in that sorting process, I also tried to be mindful of what the best future home would be for each item. Certain types of cast-off clothing and household goods will sell better at my church’s next garage sale than they will at Goodwill, and vice-versa. Likewise, many craft items are more likely to find people who will use them if I donate them to our local crafting recycling store, rather than to Goodwill or a church sale.

While this may take a bit more effort on my part (three places to drop stuff off instead of one), I’ve realized that this “subspecializing in donations” is mainly about being mindful with the stuff going out of my house. If I’m serious about not just cleaning out my own space, but also about keeping the stuff I eliminate out of a landfill, then I need to think along these lines.

And knowing that someone else can use and love my surplus makes it so much easier to let go. As my friend Keisha put it in a recent e-conversation on decluttering, “I’ve finally let go of the guilt; if it isn’t our style, we don’t have to keep my grandmother’s nut bowl from the 1970s just because it was hers. Out it goes!”

Throwing a “family heirloom” into the trash is hard, and somehow feels like dishonoring our ancestors. Giving a family heirloom a new lease on life – by freeing it to be used again (by someone else) – is a great way to assuage the guilt, in my book.

And the biggest bonus so far about this new mindfulness has surprised me: it’s also made me more mindful about the stuff coming into my house. Do we really need New Gadget X in a brand-new version, or will a secondhand one do just as well? Or, for that matter, is it something we’ll use so infrequently that we could just as easily borrow it from a neighbor or friend?

4) Work toward “one in, one out” – but don’t sweat it

Thanks to our pre-Christmas editing, it was easy to find spaces for the girls’ Christmas gifts after we returned home from our recent visits with grandparents, aunts, and uncles. But what about my gifts? While purging excess household goods before Christmas was cathartic as well as practical, I wondered if I could go even further in the new year.

First, I thought about the clothes I’d received for Christmas – a lovely new sweater and dress from my mother, a much-needed new winter thermal top from my in-laws, and some equally needed summer gear that I’d picked out for myself on sale last September, put into my husband’s shopping cart, and instructed him to give me for Christmas. They all needed homes in my closet, but where?

clothes I don't needI began to make a mental list of things that had hung in my closet, untouched, for a half-decade. In the process of actually pulling these items from the rods, I found a few more to add to the pile. Suddenly I had a sizable pile of clothes to get rid of – and enough space in my closet to hang my new dress!

Likewise, as I thought about the other new clothes I’d received, I remembered why these items had been on my Christmas wish list in the first place: the items they are supposed to replace are either too small, over a decade old, and/or worn out enough that they no longer work the way they were supposed to. Now that I have appropriate replacements, it’s time to let go of the old ones. Sounds like a no-brainer, but it really was a revelation.

If this is not the first anti-clutter blog post you’ve ever read, you probably already know the “one in, one out” rule: don’t bring something new into your house without removing something old. There are some areas in which this just doesn’t work, at least not if you have small kids: for example, I’m pretty good at pruning outgrown items from my kiddos’ wardrobes, so I don’t feel the need to hunt for an old item to remove every time they receive something new to wear. But this year, I want to be more mindful of thinking this way with other areas of our home, whether it’s everyday household purchases or the contents of my own closet.

5) The only systems that truly work, work for everyone

So you’re full of New Year’s zeal to downsize, streamline, and declutter your life. But unless you live alone, all your efforts will be wasted if the rest of your family isn’t on board.

My kids’ toys are a prime example of this. Back when the girls’ truck collection was half the size it is now, I remember trying to pile all the trucks into one of the large bins in our toy-bin storage system. But Kimmie had other ideas.

Trucks and cars don’t get heaped in a bin, silly Mama! They live in a garage, of course.

Kimmie and Essie's garageAll on her own, at the age of two and a half, after a long day of sorting her construction vehicles into lengthy caravans across our living room rug, Kimmie began lining them up in a nook at one corner of the living room when clean-up time came. (Apparently Keisha’s boys do the same thing with their trucks.) I quickly realized that it was better to roll with Kimmie’s ideas than fight them, especially if it meant greater cooperation with toy cleanup.

our new toy binsNow that we have new Christmas gifts involving new little parts, the open toy bins that have occupied our living room since Kimmie was a baby are less practical. So they’re on the way out, and in their place I’ve repurposed an extra bookcase from another room, plus an assortment of inexpensive clear storage containers. As we unpacked the new Christmas gifts from the car, I made sure the girls helped to decide which toys should go in which boxes, and which boxes should go where on the shelves.

Likewise, while I’m truly fortunate to have a husband who loves cooking as much as I do, the flip side of sharing a kitchen with him is that he has his own ideas about where tools and ingredients should live, as I’ve learned the hard way. And just as he gets frustrated when my mail pile creeps into his preferred food-prep area, I get annoyed when his just-inside-the-door countertop “home” for gloves, wallet, cellphone, and incoming mail creeps across the kitchen peninsula, which I try to keep clear for grocery-unpacking and meal-prepping.

While finding workable solutions to these challenges is an ongoing conversation, we both realize that neither of us can “solve” these “problems” of downsizing our spouse’s clutter unless said spouse is on board. At the same time, keeping the emphasis on ongoing conversation is important, too – talking about it gets us farther than, say, my unilaterally deciding to chuck half his mail pile, or vice versa.

Whatever your New Year’s goals or resolutions are, be gentle with yourself as you work toward implementing them, and remember that change takes plenty of time and baby steps. And if you have other ideas for downsizing your life and family toward a simpler, fuller existence in the New Year – or other hacks you’ve discovered to help you live more mindfully – please let us know in the comments!

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